Additional Aberdeen charges due Army officials say more instructors involved in scandal

No conspiracy seen

Investigation now includes at least 17 female victims

November 09, 1996|By Tom Bowman and Robert A. Erlandson | Tom Bowman and Robert A. Erlandson,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Jay Apperson, JoAnna Daemmrich, Dan Thanh Dang, Ronnie Greene and Lisa Respers contributed to this article.

More Army trainers -- most likely drill instructors -- are expected to be charged with sexual wrongdoing in the scandal that is enveloping an Aberdeen Proving Ground school and now includes at least 17 victims, Army officials said yesterday.

Two more drill sergeants will face charges, a top Army official said, in a growing investigation that so far has led to disciplinary action against four drill sergeants and one captain.

Charges already filed range from improper relationships with a subordinate to obstruction of justice and rape -- though it was not clear how many alleged rapes were included among the complaints.

The new charges, sources said, will involve improper relationships -- so-called fraternization -- though the investigation continuing and more information is flooding in through a toll-free hot line set up by the Army.

Maj. Gen. Robert D. Shadley, commander of the U.S. Army Ordnance Center and School, said at a news conference yesterday that "other charges are expected," but would not provide details.

Shadley also said "there is no evidence of a conspiracy" among )) the three men -- one captain and two drill sergeants -- who now face courts-martial. Two others who received administrative punishment for improper relationships are drill sergeants, including one who wrote a love letter to a subordinate, said an APG source.

Shadley, a two-star general who has overseen the school since August 1995, would not provide the number of victims or potential defendants. "The numbers change every day," he said.

During the news conference, the 54-year-old general's voice cracked when he told reporters that the trainers are there to teach and protect recruits, "not to prey on them."

As the probe widened, Army officials announced changes designed to head off further problems and to make it easier to detect sexual harassment and misconduct.

For example, training schedules have been changed so leaders can have more time with their troops, said Lt. Col. Gabriel Riesco, chief of staff to Shadley. Chaplain assignments have been altered so they are more readily available to recruits. Drill sergeants are taking refresher courses on duties.

Army officials said the sexual wrongdoing, which extends back to at least the spring, came to their attention in September when a recruit said she was raped.

About 11,000 recruits, 20 percent of them women, attend the school each year after basic training.

The students' average age is 21. The 345 instructors give recruits three to eight weeks of training in mechanical maintenance of Army equipment, including small arms, vehicles and generators.

The Army said it expects to interview some 1,000 women who have been through the training school since January 1995. About 550 have been interviewed so far.

Some female soldiers said yesterday that they had been subjected to sexual harassment.

"It's been happening for a long time. Nobody's been saying anything," said Pvt. Jamie Robbins of Eugene, Ore.

Three instructors at school sexually harassed her, she said, adding that she didn't report it but forcefully fended off the advances. "I just told them, 'If I hear anything again, I'm going to say something.' "

Still, she says she is satisfied with what Army is doing in response to the problem and does not think it's systemic.

Shadley was uncertain why it took so long for the misconduct to surface; he said that is one question he expects the investigation to answer.

A training officer from Fort Lee, Va., has been assigned to conduct an independent investigation of the system at the school. Shadley said questions are also being asked throughout the Training Command "to see if there are systemic problems."

Yesterday, one of the accused, Staff Sgt. Nathanael Beach, a gulf war veteran who is charged with an improper relationship with a student, obstruction of justice and disobeying an order, said through his lawyer he is innocent.

The lawyer, Army Capt. Vincent N. Avallone, said Beach is being unfairly linked with other soldiers who face more serious charges.

"Staff Sergeant Beach is deeply disturbed by the extensive pretrial publicity the Army has chosen to generate in this case. [He] has dedicated himself to training soldiers in a professional and caring manner, regardless of the soldier's gender," Avallone said.

Another of the accused, Capt. Derrick Robertson, 30, of Joppatowne, is charged with rape, adultery, obstruction of justice and an improper relationship with a student. Robertson has denied the rape charge, saying his accuser "made the story up out of anger."

But Robertson has acknowledged that he had had an improper relationship with a subordinate. "It began with her telling me how much she admired me," he said Thursday. "I crossed the line. I regret I caused the negative attention to the United States Army."

Another trainer charged, Staff Sgt. Delmar Simpson, 31, of Edgewood, faces accusations of rape, forcible sodomy, adultery and obstruction of justice.

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